Leon Trotsky

The First Five Years of the Communist International

Volume 2

Paul Levi and Some “Lefts”

January 6, 1922

Dear Comrade,

You ask me to express my views [1*] on the policy of the so-called Communist League of Germany (KAG), and in passing you refer to the fact that Paul Levi, the leader of the Communist League, is abusing my name by claiming me as virtually his co-thinker.

I must candidly confess that following the Third World Congress I have not read a single article by Levi, just as I have not read – to, my sincere regret – many other far more important things. To be sure, I have seen in periodicals published by Levi, which I happened to run across by chance, extracts from my report at the World Congress. Some comrades informed me that I had been almost enrolled as a member of Levi’s group. And if these happened to be very “leftist” and very young comrades, they mentioned it with holy horror, while those who were somewhat more serious confined themselves to a joke. Inasmuch as I am utterly unable to enrol myself either among the very young (to my sorrow) or among the very “leftist” (for which I am not at all sorry), my reaction to this news was not at all tragic. Let me confess I still see no reason for changing my attitude.

From the nature of the case it seemed to me, as it still does, that the decision concerning Levi adopted by the congress at Moscow is perfectly clear and requires no extended commentaries. By the decision of the congress, Levi was placed outside the Communist International. This decision was not at all adopted against the wishes of the Russian delegation, but on the contrary with its rather conspicuous participation, inasmuch as it was none other than the Russian delegation that drafted the resolution on tactics. The Russian delegation acted, as usual, under the direction of our party’s Central Committee. And as member of the Central Committee and member of the Russian delegation, I voted for the resolution confirming Levi’s expulsion from the International. Together with our Central Committee I could see no other course. By virtue of his egocentric attitude. Levi had invested his struggle against the crude theoretical and practical mistakes connected with the March events with a character so pernicious that nothing was left for the slanderers among the Independents to do except to support him and chime in with him. Levi opposed himself not only to the March mistakes but also to the German party and the workers who had committed these mistakes. In his fright lest the party train suffer a wreck in rounding a dangerous curve, Levi fell, because of fear and malice, into such a frenzy and devised such a “tactic” of salvation as sent him flying out of the window and down the embankment. The train, on the other hand, although heavily shaken and damaged, rounded the curve without being derailed.

Thereupon Levi decided that the Communist International was unworthy of its name unless it forced the German Communist Party to accept Levi once again as its leader. Levi’s letter to the congress was written in exactly that spirit. There was nothing left for us to do except shrug our shoulders. An individual who talks so heatedly about Moscow’s dictatorial rule, demanded that Moscow by a formal decision impose him upon the Communist Party out of whose ranks he had propelled himself with such remarkable energy.

I do not mean to say by this that I considered Levi irretrievably lost to the Communist International as far back as the congress. I was too little acquainted with him to draw any categorical conclusions one way or the other. I did, however, entertain the hope that a cruel lesson wouldn’t pass for nought and that Levi would sooner or later find his way back to the party. When on the second day after the congress a comrade who was departing abroad asked me what there remained now for Levi and his friends to do, I gave approximately the following reply: “I do not at all feel myself called upon to offer any advice to Levi because Comrade Lenin’s letter to the Jena Convention of advice I would suggest his trying to understand that an expulsion of the party’s former chairman, approved by a World Congress, is not something subject to correction by fits of hysteria. Unless Levi is prepared to drown himself in the swamp of the Independents, he must silently submit to a decision which is harsh but which he himself has provoked, and, while remaining outside the party, to continue working as a rank-and-file soldier for the party until the latter once again opens its doors to him.”

I had all the less reason for issuing any special declarations with regard to Levi because Comrade Lenin’s letter to the Jena Convention of the German Communist Party [1] expressed exactly and completely the point of view which I together with Comrade Lenin defended at the World Congress not only during the plenary sessions but especially in commission sessions and during conferences with various delegations. The German delegation is quite aware of this. But when I learned – and this happened two or three weeks after the congress – that Levi instead of patiently climbing up the embankment began noisily proclaiming that the track of the party and the entire International must be switched over to the precise place where he, Paul Levi, had tumbled, and that therewith Levi began building a whole “party” on the basis of this egocentric philosophy of history, I was obliged to say to myself that the Communist movement had no other recourse – deplorable as it may be – except to definitely place a cross over Levi.

Incidentally, I ought to mention that I was on one occasion about to make an attempt to untangle certain alleged “misunderstandings” concerning my position, concocted not only by the followers of Levi but also by some “lefts”. This was at the time of the Jena Convention. It was not without astonishment that I learned that this Party Convention had differentiated itself with maximum vagueness from certain unspecified views of mine, while at the same time it completely solidarized itself with the resolutions of the Third Congress. But between this congress and myself, however, there had been no misunderstandings at all. However, on reflection, I dismissed the matter. During the congress itself a group of lefts, whom the International had pulled back sharply, tried to camouflage the extent of their retreat: “While we are indeed retreating to the right, we shall never go – heaven forbid! – as far to the right as Trotsky.” To this end the left strategists, on whose toes I, in the line of party duty, had to step several times at the congress, tried to represent matters as if my position were in some respects, which they alone comprehended, “to the right” of the position of the Third Congress as expressed, among other things, in the resolution on the economic and international situation which Comrade Varga and I had written. This was not an easy thing to prove and no one actually tried to prove it. The Central Committee of our own party, even before the opening of the congress, had to correct certain leftist deviations in our own midst. [2*]

The resolution on the international situation and tactics was painstakingly edited by our Central Committee. On the eve of the World Congress and after its adjournment, I made two reports [2] before our Moscow party organization – the strongest both in the ideological and organizational sense – in which I defended the position of the Central Committee on the questions in dispute at the congress. The Moscow organization approved our point of view wholeheartedly and completely. Both of my Moscow reports have since been published in the German language as a book: Die Neue Etappe (The New Stage). If some leftists continue to chatter that I either recognize or incline to recognize that capitalism has restored its equilibrium and that thereby the proletarian revolution is relegated to the dim future, then I can only shrug my shoulders once again. After all it is necessary to think and to express oneself a little more coherently. For all these reasons I regarded the above-mentioned Jena resolution merely as the last echo of the March confusion and the harmless revenge of the “lefts” for the severe lesson taught them by the Third Congress.

Two or three times during this period I have had the occasion to acquaint myself – true, very cursorily – with the writings of Comrade Maslow and his closest co-thinkers. I do not know whether a cross must likewise be placed over them, that is, whether one should renounce all hope of these comrades being able sometime to learn something; but it must be affirmed in any case that they failed to learn anything at the congress. It is out of the question to consider them as Marxists. They convert Marx’s historic theory into automatism and for good measure they add to it unbridled revolutionary subjectivism. Elements of this sort easily pass into their opposite at the very first turn of events. Today they preach that the economic crisis must unfailingly and uninterruptedly worsen up to the dictatorship of the proletariat. But tomorrow, should some improvement of the economic conjuncture give them a fillip on the nose, many of them will become transformed into reformists. The Communist Party of Germany has paid far too dearly for its March lesson to permit a repetition of it, even in a diluted form. It occurs to me, by the way, that it is very doubtful that the lefts still retain the same moods as those with which they entered the March battles and summoned others to follow. They have retained primarily their prejudices and deem themselves honour bound to defend the March phraseology and theoretical confusion. By this stubbornness they hinder the German workers from learning. It is impermissible to allow this.

After everything that has happened since the World Congress, I had no reason to be surprised at Levi’s conduct in making public the documents relating to the March battles. The false tactical views that manifested themselves in the March events led naturally to specific practical consequences. The erroneousness of the tactic found its expression in blunders and stupidities committed by a whole number of splendid party workers. The congress condemned the mistakes and pointed out the correct road. The most important and valuable section of those comrades who in their day had made mistakes or approved of them submitted to the congress not out of fear but out of conviction. After the accomplishment of this curative and educational work, to pull documents out of one’s own pocket or someone else’s (it amounts to the same thing) – documents which can no longer teach anyone anything new but can only provide great moral satisfaction to the bourgeois and Social-Democratic scum – to do so is to add a personal transgression to a political sin.

Equally blind in its vengefulness is the belated publication by Paul Levi of Luxemburg’s critical article against Bolshevism. [3] In the course of these last few years all of us have had to clear up many things in our own minds and to learn a great deal under the direct blows of events. Rosa Luxemburg accomplished this ideological work more slowly than others because she had to observe events from the side lines, from the pits of German prisons. Her recently published manuscript characterizes only a particular stage in her spiritual development and is therefore of importance biographically but not theoretically. In his day Levi was adamantly opposed to the publication of this booklet. During four years of the soviet revolution this manuscript was kept under lock and key. But when Levi, miscalculating the forces of motion, fell out of the party train and down the embankment, he decided to make the same use of the old manuscript as he has of “revealing” documents filched from the pockets of others. Thereby he has merely once again demonstrated that all things – positive and negative alike – acquire meaning for him solely depending upon how they happen to relate personally to Paul Levi. He is the measure of all things. What a monstrous intellectualistic egocentrism! The person of Levi is Levi’s psychological premise for his political attitude toward the German Communist Party and toward the entire International.

The organization created by Levi is bound, in the very nature of things, to attract all those who accidentally fell into the ranks of the Communist Party and who require, especially after the March upheaval, the first convenient pretext for betaking themselves to the hills. It would be far too awkward for them to return straightaway to the Independents. For these tired pilgrims Levi has arranged something in the nature of a sanatorium or rest home for critics. Its name is the KAG. The German working class has no earthly use for this institution. The German working class already possesses its own revolutionary party. The latter has still far from overcome all its growing pains. In store for it still lie heavy trials and tribulations both external and internal. But it is the genuine party of the German working class. It will grow and develop. It will conquer.

First published in Pravda, Issue No.4, January 6, 1922

Trotsky’s Footnotes

1*. This letter is in reply to a communication sent me by one of the oldest comrades in Germany in connection with the split of Levi’s opportunist group. – L.T.

2*. These leftist deviations consisted in the failure of certain comrades to consider in advance how dangerous for the development of the proletarian revolution adventuristic-putschistic tendencies in the Comintern itself might prove. – L.T.


1. Lenin’s letter to the Jena Conference of the German CP, which convened toward the end of August 1921, was written on August 14, 1921 and made public several months later in the magazine Communist International, No.19, December 17, 1921. Lenin affirmed that in the beginning he defended “and had to defend Levi to the extent that I saw before me those of his opponents who merely shouted about ‘Menshevism’ and ‘Centrism’, refusing to see the mistakes of the March action and the necessity of explaining and correcting these mistakes.” Levi, explained Lenin, was expelled not for his views but for violating party discipline, and Lenin added: “The more cautiously 1 approached the evaluation of Levi’s mistakes at the (Third) Congress, all the greater is the assurance with which I can now state that Levi has hastened to confirm the worst charges brought against him.”

2. The two reports mentioned by Trotsky are: On the International Situation and the Tasks of the Comintern; and The School of Revolutionary Strategy. The text of the second report appears in this volume; for the text of the first report see the previous volume.

3. This pamphlet was written by Rosa Luxemburg in September 1918 when she was in prison, completely isolated and able to follow the events in Russia only through the dispatches in the bourgeois press. In this pamphlet she sharply criticized Bolshevik policies, particularly the Soviet electoral system, the agrarian policy, etc. That Rosa Luxemburg was in process of revising the views she expressed in this pamphlet is clearly shown by her speech on the question of program at the founding conference of the German CP and by her articles in Rote Fahne. She never published this pamphlet in her lifetime. It was issued by Paul Levi, her literary executor, for purely factional reasons.

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Last updated on: 19.1.2007